It was Day 5 of 2012 Miami fall camp, and true freshman Tracy Howard the nations No. 1 cornerback out of Miramar High was already donning the coveted black jersey earned by defensive starters.
Howard was living up to his legend, and Hurricanes fans were enthralled with how easy everything seemed for the local kid with the big smile and alluring confidence.
But eventually, Howard learned like most freshmen that this big-time college football stuff takes time to master, and he would sit plenty on the bench. In the end, he gained perspective, honed his talent, learned patience and earned the respect of his coaches.
Now, Howard is back in black, and ready to replace his mentor, departed cornerback Brandon McGee.
The key is, he just had to live up to our expectation, not what the outsides expectation was for him, defensive coordinator Mark DOnofrio said Sunday, the second day of spring camp. Once they become comfortable and understand that they dont have to, Day One, come in and be the best corner that ever played. Thats unrealistic, and its really not fair.
Hes improved because hes doing exactly what were asking him to do. Hes improved because hes [doing] the same thing that got him here. The reason why he had such success in high school is because he really loves and game, and he will work really, really hard at it.
Howard ended his first season with 17 tackles and four pass breakups. He played in all 12 games and started the final one at Duke. Hes now listed as a starter opposite junior Ladarius Gunter, who had 27 tackles in 12 games (five starts) last season, plus an interception, two fumble recoveries and six pass breakups.
The 5-11 Howard said hes up to 182 pounds from his 171-pound playing weight as a freshman. The added strength is helping him master his press technique, among his goals. I want to work on my press, just stand lateral quick stabs ... and be quick on my jam.
He said he comes out of his breaks better because of the extra bulk. Some people say weight doesnt matter, but I really think it does.
Howard said he has always had high expectations for himself, but learned to let the process unfold in its own time.
I learned to be more patient. Everybody wants to come in and be very dominant. But at the cornerback position it takes a lot of learning.
He said as a freshman it was more stressful trying to learn the playbook while executing it at the same time.
Now its about having fun and going out and executing.
Howard insists the black jersey is an honor he wont take for granted.
It means a lot to me. The black jersey shows how much work I put in. But you have to execute to keep it.